FIGURE OF SPEECH

Dr. Gerry Turcotte

January 21, 2013

Since you are reading this column, the world did not end on Dec. 21, 2012 as putatively predicted by the Mayan calendar.

I can't tell you how relieved I am. When I was little I repeated what I'd learned in science class and told my father that our sun would self-destruct in a billion years. Without skipping a beat he lamented, "One more thing for me to worry about." I had my first inkling of the concept of irony that day, and it has stuck with me ever since.

Virtually every culture and every tradition has a reflection on the end of days. One particularly witty Internet posting started this way: "I don't want to brag or anything, but this is the fifth end of the world that I've survived."

One cute cartoon showed a depressed Mayan drinking alone at a bar while the bartender consoled him: "Cheer up buddy, it's not the end of the world."

The reality is that human beings have always been obsessed with the end of days. The Bible closes with The Book of Revelation, a work that for some proclaims imminent demise and for others outlines the coming judgment in a distant future.

The reality is that the end, like taxes, will come. What we should be paying attention to isn't so much the apocalypse as we have come to understand it through so many Hollywood movies, but rather the deeper meaning of the word itself.

Etymologically, "apocalypse" comes from the Latin and Greek meaning disclosure and uncovering. Specifically, the concept of apocalypse refers to an illumination of the unknown, and though the biblical work is often read as a doomsday prophecy, the message is actually about the triumph of good over evil. As far as prophecies go, I am consoled, rather than depressed, by this news.

Perhaps instead of dwelling on the end of times, we should focus on the present as it informs our journey forward. This is where New Year's resolutions can become an apocalypse now.

The new year started, for me, with a meeting of new students enrolling in the winter term here at St. Mary's University. The room buzzed with excitement and potential, and students spoke about where they had come from, what they hoped to achieve, but also why the start of their journey would be transformative and dynamic.

This is what the new year, like all beginnings, can offer us: an opportunity to reflect on where we've been, on what we would like to improve upon, and the good that we can do, so that when the end does come we can meet our maker with a clear conscience, a happy heart and a sense of having done our very best with the gifts that we have been given.

This is an apocalypse that we can all celebrate like there's no tomorrow.

(Dr. Gerry Turcotte is president, St. Mary's University College in Calgary.)